We keep being told the Texas Department of Transportation has completely run out of money, completely broke, and that all road construction will grind to halt in short order… unless Texans get behind a tax hike of one sort or other. And yet word comes this week that the state is paying for an $8.7-million “environmental impact” and preliminary design studies for an Austin-to-San Antonio passenger-rail line.

Yesterday we learned that Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) is looking into proposing a constitutional amendment that would increase the gasoline tax to pay for road bonds. Everyone in favor of higher taxes to finance more debt raise your hand. Anyone?

That silence you hear is the sound of folks wondering one what planet Mr. Ogden thinks a tax on mobility to finance debt makes sense in this political and economic environment. Not on planet Texas, that’s for sure.

As Stop The Hike writes, “Apparently Ogden has not been paying attention to the tone of Texans or needs a memory refresher.”

And not just higher taxes and more debt, but apparently higher taxes and more debt without any reform of the spending process. Right now transportation spending, especially transportation spending at the local level, is about as opaque as government spending gets.

Mr. Ogden tells the San Antonio Express-News “he plans to offer an amendment to the Texas Constitution to say lawmakers can raise the gas tax a few cents a gallon to pay off debt service for road bonds financed through the highway fund.”

Um, the same legislature that diverts a large portion of the current gas tax? No thanks.

Somewhere between 40% and 50% of every dollar raised in gasoline taxes is diverted to non-road and bridge construction/maintenance items. Under our state constitution, all gas tax dollars are supposed to be used only for road and bridge construction — except 25% which voters inexplicably set aside for public education 60 years ago.

On this latest spending-spree, TxDOT tells KLBJ radio in Austin that spending the money could bring in more federal money… Federal monies that will indoubtedly come with very expensive strings.

Essentially, we’re being told to spend money today that we don’t have, to finance a project that the feds may or may not send a little money too, but will undoubtedly regulate into the ground. A project that history shows won’t reduce congestion or improve mobility, all while diverting more state money from road construction.

Whether the $8.7 million for a rail environmental study have been spent on road construction and maintenance is unclear. What is abundently clear is that transportation funding needs a thorough cleaning long before anyone can responsibly talk about schemes to hike taxes.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."


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